By Saces Ferrer, CIEE Camp Exchange USA 2019 participant
Hi! I am Saces Ferrer from the Philippines and I participated in the Camp Exchange USA program with the help of CIEE and UTP Beyond Borders.
Honestly, before camp, I thought I knew what to expect. I thought that I’d simply be teaching and training kids to be good fencing players all the while tending to the kids in my cabin. I thought that there was a strict boundary between counselors and campers. I did not expect to love and be as attached to my campers as I did in camp. My work as a counselor was not bound by the traditional teacher-student relationship. It goes beyond supervising, and waking and putting the kids to sleep everyday. As a counselor, I had the opportunity to support and empower wonderful kids. I was not only a teacher, but also a friend.
In camp, kids tackled me with hugs, painted and signed on me, dressed me up, dyed my hair, chased me with whipped cream, pinned me down the mattress by piling over me because they wanted to test my strength, and many more! I did not expect any of it. Nevertheless, it was a very pleasant and heartwarming surprise.
That Time I Felt Like A Superhero
It happened during one of the cabin trips. After canoeing through the Namekagon River, we stopped over in one of the camp sites to rest, put up tents, and eat smores. Everything was going well. The weather was perfect, my kids were strong canoers, and we were able to cover a lot of miles. As we were all getting ready to sleep, my kids approached me and asked if it was okay for them to wake me up in the middle of the night to go with them to the bathroom. The kids probably felt bothered and scared to go alone which is understandable because going all the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night with strangers literally meters away is uncomfortable. So of course, I said yes. Guess who had eyebags the next morning? Even if I did feel tired after waking up three times, I was happy that the kids trusted me with their fears and believed that I was strong enough to fend off strangers. It was a simple request, but it felt empowering to be depended on.
Most Iconic Memories At Camp
I say iconic and not favorite because I believe that every memory I had with the campers are special and unique in its own way. I just picked three stories to share because these are funny and exceptionally sweet memories.
Bababa ba? Bababa
During one of camp’s evening programs, a person from Birch Trail’s leadership team asked me if I can present about the Philippines in the form of a funny skit or mini program. Of course, given the opportunity to educate kids about my home, I said yes. I told them all kinds of facts that I knew to be true! I told them what the symbols and colors on the Philippine flag represent, taught them about one of the Philippine’s weirdest games: “Spider Gladiators” (it’s basically like Ancient Rome’s Gladiator fighting but with spiders), and many more! But the highlight of my presentation was my skit on the Filipino language’s quirk: where an entire conversation can consist of only the syllable “ba” (provided that it is said in the right tone and correct number of times).
Setting: that part during the elevator ride where it stops on one of the floors
Person 1: bababa ba?
Person 2: bababa
The funny part about this is that, one of the kids thought that the Filipino language is only consisted of ba’s!
I was just inside the bathroom and several kids approached me and asked about my language and how “bababa ba? Bababa” is considered an actual conversation. So okay, the kids were curious, interested, and were asking sensible questions right? It was a pleasure for me to teach them about it. But then this kid, I don’t know if she was listening in on our conversation but in the middle of my explanation she said “OMG! Wait, let me try…bababababababa. Did I accidentally say Mcdonald’s?” And honestly, it was so funny and cute at the same time.
International Counsel Fire
During another one of camp’s evening program, I had another chance to educate not only campers but also the rest of the staff about the Philippines. This happened during the International Counsel Fire where the international staff all come together to talk and present about their home countries. Being the only Filipino in camp, I had to present alone. I had this brilliant idea to just sing a nursery rhyme called “tong tong tong tong pakitong kitong” or “The Crab Song” (not the official English translation. I made it up, but since the song is about crabs, I think this would do). But I didn’t want to present alone. So I asked my kids from the Cabin if they wanted to sing with me. To my surprise, all of my kids from the Cabin wanted to do it! Because of them, I felt more at ease.
But after the international counsel fire, there was this kid who I think loved the song a little too much that every time she sees me, she will excitedly run to me to give me a hug, and dangle on my back all the while singing the Crab song!
Even if you know what’s coming, you’re never prepared for how it feels. I mean, the very moment you got your kids fresh off the bus, you know that after 4 weeks, camp will end and it’s time to say goodbye. Yet, amidst knowing all of this, when the day finally came, I was still not prepared. I remember this memory vividly because it was one of the most heartwarming goodbyes I’ve ever had in my life.
That morning, with my last few moments with the kids, we followed our typical routine. We were eating bagels for breakfast, just chatting and laughing. Moments later, my kid’s buses came and I walked them over to it. I hugged each and every one of them before they hopped on the bus and didn’t stop waving till they got on. But right after they’ve settled down their stuff and got a seat, one of my kids ran back down to me, hugged me tightly and told me how much she loved having me as a counselor and wanted me to come back again next year. By this time, I was putting on the tough guy act. I kept repeating to myself “I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry.” For the most part, my mantra worked. That is until it was finally time for the buses to leave. When I glanced over to my kids’ buses, I see them standing up and looking at me. They started waving their hands furiously at me. By this time, my heart was breaking and it was getting extremely hard to keep up the tough guy act. But…I mean, I still had to make sure that I’m the one they’re furiously saying goodbye to. So I tried to look around but then my kids started tapping the bus windows and only stopped when I looked back at them. That’s how I knew that their sweet goodbyes were meant for me. At this moment, I think my tear ducts just broke and the next thing I knew, there were tears trailing down my cheeks and I couldn’t stop. (A tip from me: just don’t stop your tears. For the most part, I think crying after camp is inevitable).
My experience in camp not only gave me wonderful memories that would last me a lifetime but it also helped me gain experiences that developed my confidence and interpersonal skills--such as providing conflict resolution and applying cultural relativism. Of course, these lessons did not come easy. Just as how fun camp was, there were still, of course, struggles. One of those would be my experience with homesickness. During my first weeks at camp, not only did I miss my family and friends in the Philippines, but I also missed my culture. I never expected how the American Culture contrasted with ours! Talk about getting out of your comfort zone! But beyond the skills I gained, camp helped me regain the ability to live in the present. Now, I have a more enriched my appreciation about what happens in my life “off the screen”. Before camp, I was glued to my phone. I would constantly check for notifications and messages all throughout the day. I mean, I still had my phone on me even in the bathroom! (let’s be honest, I’m not the only one that does this) But since we weren’t allowed to use our phones unless you were on your break or day off, I had to relearn how to live without having a phone on me 24/7. I had to admit, it was hard at first but this was, for me, the most valuable lesson I learned in camp! I feel more at peace and mentally healthier than ever! Working as a camp counselor last summer truly is one for the books!
For more information on the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program, please visit our website.